RSS

Category Archives: Discipleship

The People of What Happens Next

(a sermon for May 28, 2017, the 7th Sunday of Easter, based on Acts 1:1-14)

Actually, for me the whole scene has the look and the feel of a high school or college graduation!

To begin with, this story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven represents the last gathering of Jesus with his disciples and marks the end of a long and remarkable journey: from the shores of Galilee where this disparate group of fishermen, tax collectors and societal outcasts first heard Jesus’ call, through the agonies of the cross, to the empty tomb and beyond; indeed, we’re told that in the forty days just past Jesus had “presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them… and speaking about the kingdom of God.”  But that was all coming to an end, and now as “they were together for the last time,” (The Message) Jesus is giving these disciples some last minute instructions for the way ahead:  “on no account” should you leave Jerusalem, but instead you “‘must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me.’” Soon, and very soon, you see, “you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit!”

See what I mean here?  Just as in any kind of graduation ceremony there’s a definite sense of closure, but there’s also this baffling and rather disconcerting reference to the mysterious future that is just about to unfold!  I remember very well my own graduation from Bangor Seminary; in particular the moment when our seminary president, the Rev. Dr. Wayne Glick, stood at the podium and informed us in his rich, Appalachian drawl, “You people think you have learned all you need to know here at the seminary… well, I am here to tell you that the learning has just begun!”  What?  You mean to say that our full three years of engaging in intense biblical study, all that wrestling with theological conundrums both old and new, to say nothing of all of the “on the job training” for any and all pastoral challenges that we faced as student pastors wasn’t going to be enough?  To employ the language of the Old Testament, “Oy Vey!”

But you see, that’s the nature of these kinds of moments, isn’t it? You’ve reached this very important place in your life’s journey when everything has rightly seemed to come into focus, and yet – I dare say even for those whose pathway seems solidly set before them – there is an uncertainty about it all that is both unsettling and even at times terrifying!

And so it is for the disciples; especially after they ask Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” and Jesus answers, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” Can you even imagine what the eleven of them had to have been thinking at this point?  Jesus, we’ve come all this way and have experienced so much; to the point where the kingdom is in our very grasp and now you won’t even tell us when it’s going to happen?  Nope… as The Message translates it, “You don’t get to know the time.  Timing is the Father’s business.”

Oy Vey, indeed!  This was obviously not the answer they were looking for; they’d figured that now that the resurrection had happened everything else – for the world and for them – would most certainly fall into place.  But now they find out that their journey goes on, that the way ahead is just about as uncertain as it was before, and the Kingdom… well, the Kingdom will come when the Kingdom will come, and that’s all you really get to know right now!

But, Jesus goes on to say, even though you don’t get to know what happens next, “what you’ll get is the Holy Spirit.”  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Power:  in the Greek, dunamis, meaning dynamic, dynamo or even dynamite; Witnesses: from the Greek word marturos, from where we get our word martyr!  So, in other words, what Jesus says to them – the very last thing that Jesus says to them, by the way (!) – is that the way ahead for you is still uncertain, but that the Holy Spirit, which God has promised to give you, will provide you with the power, the dynamic, if you will, to keep on the journey ahead and to be my witnesses even when that way ahead proves to be very difficult; but moreover to do so with a clear sense of purpose and with joy!  You are being called to go “all in;” to live wholly and completely unto your faith, bearing witness to God’s enduring presence wherever you are and in whatever comes. What happens next?  In many ways, you are the people of what happens next!

And with that said, Jesus ascended into heaven.

“As they were watching,” Luke writes, “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”  Just like that.  It’s no wonder that apparently, the disciples spent a long time “staring up into the empty sky;” also no wonder that it took two men “in white robes” to stir them out of their reverie, saying, “why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” This Jesus, “who was just taken from among you to heaven will come as certainly – and mysteriously – as he left.”   The message was clear:  the time for standing around was over; there would be a moment when Jesus would return, but for now the next part of the journey – this immense, mysterious and seemingly improbable journey – was just beginning.

I love what  Barbara Brown Taylor has written about this; it comes from her book Gospel Medicine and she says that “no one standing around watching them that day could have guessed what an astounding thing happened when they all stopped  looking into the sky and looked at each other instead.   But in the days and years to come it would become very apparent… with nothing but a promise and a prayer, those eleven people consented to become the church and nothing was ever the same again, beginning with them.  The followers became leaders, the listeners became preachers, the converts became missionaries, the healed became healers.  The disciples became apostles, witnesses of the risen Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit… [and] surprising things began to happen.  They began to say things that sounded like him, and they began to do things they had never seen anyone but him do before.  They became,” concludes Taylor, believers who were “brave and capable and wise.”

They became the church… they were formed into a gathered community of people bound by a common mission and a shared calling, to witness unto the resurrection of Jesus Christ; beginning in those times and situations where perhaps only two or more are gathered, but then maybe throughout Jerusalem, and then Judea and Samaria, and then… who knows, even “to the ends of the earth.”  It’s a mission that has endured throughout the centuries…

… and it is the same calling that is extended and continues in you and in me today.

That’s right… lest we forget in these days of confused situations: this story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven; this story of this time that exists between “the now” of the world as we currently know it, and the “not yet” of the world as it is promised it will someday be?  It’s our story just as much as it was theirs; and as the church, you see, as the church of this generation, we are “the people of what happens next.”

You see, in every generation the question has always been the same:  when is the church truly being the church of Jesus Christ?  How that question gets answered and the ways that faith is expressed most certainly has grown and adapted over the course of those generations and in keeping with changing times and new challenges.  But ultimately, the answer to that question – when is the church truly being the church – has never changed; we are the church when we are living wholly and completely as witnesses of the Risen Christ!

We are the church when we speak boldly of the truth of Jesus’ teachings (by our words, if necessary, but much more importantly by our example) unto people and unto a world that is hurting profusely and is desperate for love, and for justice, and for a peace that the world cannot provide.  We are the church when we make the commitment to not be passive about moving into the future, letting ourselves become diminished by whatever the world’s latest set of priorities happen to be; but rather to let the power of God’s own Holy Spirit be our own dynamic as persons and as a people, so that we might truly be part and parcel of “what happens next” for the sake of God’s Kingdom within us and all around us, starting right here on Mountain Road, in Concord and New Hampshire, and even “to the ends of the earth.”

And don’t misunderstand me here; for us to be an effective “witness” is not measured by the size or the scope of the effort; but rather by its sincerity and the depth of its love.

Many years ago – I think it was that same summer I graduated from seminary – I was actually on vacation and got a call on a Sunday afternoon from a member of the church where I had been serving as a student, and now newly ordained, pastor.  “I just wanted to tell you what happened this morning, so you didn’t hear about it via the grapevine,” she said, and went on to tell me how one of the older women of the church had suffered a stroke during that morning’s worship service.  Apparently, they’d just finished singing the middle hymn (which at that church was sung just before the sermon), and though everyone else had sat down, “Edna” remained standing, unresponsive to those in the pew next to her.

Now understand that under ordinary circumstances this was a small congregation, but in mid-August, and while the pastor was away, it was downright cozy!   So there was no way this was going to happen quietly or unobtrusively; and of course, everyone immediately gathered around Edna. The worship leader that day, as I recall, was a lay preacher from our association name Leona, and even she put aside her sermon notes and she also came down from the altar to see what she could do to help.

As it was described to me, everybody had a job.  One of the women was a retired nurse, so she started checking vital signs.  Another quickly went to the kitchen to bring in some cold water, while still another rushed to the phone to call an ambulance. One of the men went out to the head of the church driveway to flag down the EMT unit when it arrived.  As for the rest of the congregation, they either prayed quietly or held hands with others as they prayed.   Soon enough, the ambulance came and the paramedics did their work, but even the folks of the congregation waited and watched as they took Edna back to the hospital for a full examination; with a couple of them going along for emotional support.

And after the ambulance had left, the members of the congregation going back to their pews, one of the Deacons of that church (as I recall, he was always a Deacon of that church!), turned to Leona and said, “Well, Madam Pastor, I guess you can preach that sermon now.”  And with incredible wisdom, Leona just smiled and said, “I think you folks already did.”

It’s a scene that as a church pastor I’ve seen repeated time and time again over the years; I’ve seen it happen here at East Church and with you in a whole variety of wonderful, life-giving, gospel proclaiming ways!

Beloved, we are, each and every one of us here, called to be witnesses to the Risen Christ and a living testimony to the Kingdom of God taking root and flourishing in our midst. What we do here in this place, and also what we do out there, serves to proclaim the ways that faith informs and directs what, for the sake of our faith, we intend for one another, for our families and friends, for our community and for our world.  We are the people of what happens next by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us.

And so let us be bold in our witness; let us truly go “all in” for what we know is true.  Let the good news be heard and seen… in us.

May God in Christ bless our witness, and may our thanks for all things be unto God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

Tags: , ,

But Now You Are God’s People!

(a sermon for May 13, 2017, the 5th Sunday of Easter, based on 1 Peter 2:2-10)

I have a question for you to ponder this morning, and it’s this: Who are you?

Seriously… just who are you, anyway?

It’s a question that truly does require some pondering, for it’s one that can well be answered in a multitude of ways.  The first and most obvious answer, I suppose, comes in a name:  for instance, “Who am I?  I am Michael Lowry.”  But then again, that simply gives rise to more specific answers; like, “I am Michael Lowry who lives in beautiful Concord, New Hampshire,” or as it happens in my case, “I’m Michael Lowry, pastor of East Church,” which inevitably leads to the question, “So… is that Reverend Lowry, Pastor Lowry, Father Lowry… and yes, I’ve even been asked this… Rabbi Lowry?”  So granted, the title might vary from time to time; but at the heart of all those titles lay at least part of who I am!

Because yes, there’s more to me than just that; I’m also Lisa’s husband; I’m “Dad” to Jake, Sarah and Zachary; I’m still very much my mother’s son (in fact, there are places up in northern Maine where I am still known primarily as “Keith and Sylvia’s boy”), I’m Dale and Sylvia’s son-in-law, and around this neighborhood I’m afraid I’m also known as Ollie’s person (Ollie is our Jack Russell terrier!). I’m also an uncle, a brother-in-law, a neighbor and friend, a member of the United Church of Christ who happens to be a New England Congregationalist at heart; I’m a music lover, guitar player and singer of John Denver tunes, and, oh, by the way?  I’m now the bearer of two brand new titanium hips that I’m told will set off airport security in a single bound!  I’m a person who works reasonably hard from day to day, who probably… no, strike that… certainly worries way too much about stuff I can’t do anything about, and who sometimes despairs as to the state of the world.  But that said, I’m a person who loves and who knows how blessed he is that he is loved by others… that’s who I am, and so much more besides.

But enough about me (!)… the stated question was, after all, who are you?

You see, what I suspect is that your answer to this question is at least as deep and layered as mine; likely even more so!  For such is the tapestry of our lives: who we are, friends, is revealed by a lifetime’s worth of experience and the wide array of relationships we’ve had with others along the way. How we “identify” ourselves so often ends up being the sum total of all that we’ve seen and moreover, by how we’ve been seen by others. In fact, for better or worse, it could well be said that who we are is largely informed by what we’ve been told we are; by our parents, our children, our nation, our jobs, our friends, our schools, our culture, even our bank accounts.

This is no small truth, friends, and sadly, it’s not always a positive one. There are so many, maybe even some who are sitting here today, who deep down in their hearts truly believe themselves to be less than worthy of any kind of love or respect, or who have come to think of themselves as somehow inadequate and no good at all; and this, all because somewhere along the way, someone identified them as such by their hurtful words and through an attitude of degradation.  Who am I? There are those among us who cannot even answer this question because all they’ve ever heard all their lives is that they’re nothing: the kind of condemnations that have all too often been reinforced in the kind of deep seated cruelties and societal prejudices that sadly pass from generation to generation.

So isn’t it good news that amidst all those who would tell us that we’re nobody and amongst all those who would seek to degrade and marginalize for the sake of their own self-assurance that there is a single voice that belligerently shouts forth that as God’s cherished children we identify as something far greater than the world can every understand; that as believers, “we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”   Who are you?  Who am I?  We’re mortal… mortal and rejected in so many ways, and yet we are chosen and precious in God’s sight.  No matter what anyone else might have to say about it, no matter how the powers and principalities of this world might choose to define it or seek to diminish it, this is our identity.  “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”  That’s who we are, beloved; that’s who you are!

This first Epistle of Peter, from which our text is drawn this morning, was addressed to a group of early Christians living and ministering somewhere in the Mediterranean world, most likely in the Roman provinces where Turkey exists today.  These were people brand new to the Christian faith; frankly unfamiliar with the ideal and reality of living in Christ and serving Christ; and that’s why they get compared here, and I should add not unkindly, to “newborn infants,” longing “for the pure, spiritual milk.”   Understand they believed; they “identified” as followers of the risen Christ, but you also have to know that it wasn’t an easy identification, for these new Christians were essentially living as strangers in a strange land, facing persecution both direct and subtle at every turn.  History tells us that for the most part, these believers were being dismissed as little more than religious fanatics; in the words of one 1st Century Roman leader, as purveyors of a “perverse and extravagant superstition.”

Men, women and children; all rejected by the world, and yet, as the Epistle makes clear, they were “chosen and precious in God’s sight,”  set apart by the Lord as “living stones” to “be built into a spiritual house,” after the manner of Jesus Christ himself, the very cornerstone of this whole new world.  Men, women and children; all called as “a holy priesthood”  to proclaim the mighty acts of God in that strange place where they were to dwell; to continue the reality of Christ’s own life and ministry in their lives and living! But more than an honorary degree, so to speak, this identity as “God’s chosen” represents how every expectation of the world and its power structure gets turned upside down and inside out, all because of these heretofore mis-identified people who are now the royalty of God’s own kingdom!

In other words, friends, never mind what those who’ve rejected you have said you are!  What this epistle makes clear is that while once you were nobodies, people with nothing in common, now you are the church!  Now you are family; now you are God’s people, and that says it all; that tells the whole story, because that’s who you are!  By the grace of God made manifest in Christ’s resurrection, this is the identity that permeates and recreates anything and everything we’ve come to assume ourselves to be.

The truth of our baptism is that it’s not about what we ought to be, or should be, or what we can be if we only try a little bit harder.  Our baptism in the risen Christ asserts who we are: we are a new creation, a new people.  We are a holy nation; we are royalty because God in Christ says so.  We are God’s own with no doubt or hesitation about it at all; and that is good news indeed.  But understand: with this clear identity comes the challenge to live that way, right here and right now, both as persons and as a people of faith

Even here at East Church, in our own little corner of God’s Kingdom, we are that holy nation; we are the people called to proclaim the mighty acts of God:  at home, at work, in our relationships with our families and as friends, in the ways we that we seek to shape and change the structures of culture and society.  We are the church; and as the church, we’re the ones who “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” whether that happens in lifting the fallen and working against injustice in the world, or if it come to pass in some random act of kindness or simply offering up a shoulder to cry on.  You want my opinion?  This is what’s going to move us through these very difficult and downright confounding times in which we live; this is what creates the atmosphere of peace, and justice and love in the world; it’s knowing who we are and then living out of that identity; and it starts right here in this place and with us.  As G.K. Chesterton once put it, “We do not want, as the newspapers say, a Church that will move with the world.  We want a church that will move the world.”

In his book with a great title, The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything, William Willimon tells the story of little boy named Clayton; who when asked what kind of party he wanted for his fifth birthday, replied that he wanted a party in which everyone invited was a king or a queen.  So he and his mother went to work building a whole array of silver crowns, each one made of cardboard and aluminum foil; then purple robes made of crepe paper; and finally, royal scepters built from sticks that had been spray-painted gold.  And on the day of the party, as the guests arrived each one was given his or her own personal crown, along with a robe and scepter; thus becoming a king or queen. It was all very regal; there was ice cream and cake of course, followed by a majestic procession up to the end of the block and back.  Everybody had a wonderful time; and the best part was that not only did everyone look like kings and queens, they got to act like kings and queens!

And that night, when the guests had all gone home, things were all cleaned up and as Clayton was being tucked into bed by his mother, Clayton said, “I wish everyone in the whole world would be a king or a queen – not just on my birthday, but every day.”  Well, Willimon goes on to say “something very much like that happened two thousand years ago at a place called Calvary.  We, who were nobodies, became somebodies.  If we could all believe that, perhaps we could start acting like that.”

It seems to me, beloved, that we would do well to believe that.  To know who we are, not just on Sunday mornings when we’re in church and it’s easy, but every morning and all throughout every day as we seek to live out of that identity.

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”

That’s who we are, beloved.  So may we go forth as the people of God with lives of faithful service in Jesus’ name.

And in that, as always, may our thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 14, 2017 in Church, Discipleship, Epistles, Sermon

 

Tags:

“If Christ has not been raised…”

(a sermon for April 23, 2017, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, based on 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 12-20)

It’s one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read of what this particular Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, is all about; and it comes courtesy of pastor and columnist Robert Kitchen: he writes that to come to church today is “to worship in a lower key.”

After all, last Sunday was Easter, which is always a spiritual and emotional high point of our life together as God’s people, and there’s this palpable sense of exuberant joy in and through all of it, from rising with the sun for morning worship to singing out our alleluias amidst beautiful spring flowers and excited children in their new Easter clothes.  It’s a great day at church, and why wouldn’t it be?  Last Sunday, we came together here in celebration of a world changed forever by a stunningly powerful and utterly radical act of God – Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead – and it’s high energy for pastor and parish alike.

But now, seven days later, admittedly we find ourselves at some distance from that Easter joy; I mean, it’s still great to be here and all, but, let’s be honest: the energy’s just not there the way it was a week ago (as Kitchen goes on to suggest, no doubt referring to a lot of pastors about now, “last Sunday was exhausting but this Sunday we’re just exhausted!).  I don’t mean this unkindly; it’s just that already things have more or less returned to “normal,” even here in the church.  It’s like what happens every year after the Christmas holidays are finally behind us:  once the decorations are put away and school is back in session, there’s always this part of us that wonders if Christmas really happened at all, or if it was merely some kind of joyous, if chaotic, dream!

So it is with Easter; and I think this is one reason that over the centuries the church has sometimes referred to this particular day as “Low Sunday” (and not just because the pews aren’t as congested this week as they were last!).  It’s because after having finally come to the empty tomb, after having seen the risen Christ, and after having shouted our alleluias for the new life and new world that has come, now it’s another day and we begin to wonder what it all means… how it matters… what all changes now that Christ has risen… and, when all is said and done, if it’s all real.   Coming as they do after last Sunday’s celebration, these are the kinds of questions that while they may not exactly bring us “low,” they certainly give us pause; and a good reminder that how we approach these days after “the day of resurrection” is at least as important as how we approach the day itself.

I’m reminded of a great story I heard through another pastor: it seems that this friend of his had come downstairs to the kitchen on Easter morning, and announced rather loudly as fathers are wont to do, “I am hungry!”  And to this his five-year-old son looked up from the table and, without missing a beat, said, “I am hungry, indeed!”  The father, trying not to laugh but also not wanting his son to misuse that Christian greeting said, “Now, son, you don’t want to make fun of what we say in church.”  And the boy replied, “Oh, no, dad; it’s just in Sunday School they told us that if really feel something, you say, ‘Indeed!’”

So that’s the crux of it, isn’t it?  As Christians, we believe in the resurrection as a theological truth; as a matter of faith.  But the real question for each of us is if really feel that “Christ is risen, indeed?”  In other words, now that another Easter Sunday has come and gone is the resurrection still as powerfully real for us today as it was a week ago?  Does it matter so much to us that it makes a difference (no, the difference) in our lives?

Victor Pentz has written that knowing that difference is the real issue we face as we move beyond Easter Sunday.  “What difference,” he asks, “will the resurrection make in your life this Tuesday afternoon when your [preschooler] throws a screaming fit in the supermarket aisle and begins pulling the cans off the shelves?  What difference will the resurrection make on Thursday when you receive an office e-mail announcing corporate downsizing in your department?  Or, what difference will the resurrection make on Friday when you face an [ethical or moral] temptation… in other words, as we face the ordinary struggles of daily life,” when we’re dealing with everything from driving our kids from one activity to another to getting the taxes done on time, what difference does it really make for us that Jesus rose from death?  “Our problem,” Pentz concludes, “is not believing.  Our problem is remembering.”

The bottom line is that Easter Sunday becomes Eastertide, and Eastertide will sooner or later meld into the rest of our lives; and the truth is, as it does most of us do need to be reminded… reminded again and again of the very real difference Christ’s resurrection is meant to make for each one of us who would call ourselves Christian.

It’s just such a reminder that lay at the heart of our text for this morning; in fact, this passage from 1 Corinthians we’ve shared today represents one of the earliest recorded “affirmations” of the resurrection that we have, Paul having written these words only 20 years or so after the event itself… and did you notice how he begins this portion of his epistle?  “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turned received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved.”

Understand that 20 years pretty much represents a generation that has passed since Jesus rose from death, and so not only has the immediacy of it faded for the Corinthians, but also, perhaps, its power as well.  So Paul seeks to remind them of that which was and is “of first importance,” telling them that familiar story yet again: how Christ died, and was buried, and then on the third day was raised, appearing to “Cephas, then to the twelve, [then] to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive,” and then, finally, to Paul himself, appearing “as to one untimely born.”  This, says Paul, is our story; it’s the story of what we believe, and it’s a story that didn’t end at the empty tomb but continues in each one who trusts in the reality of the resurrection.  The story of Easter goes on, and resurrection happens in each believer who receives that good news of “Christ proclaimed as raised from the dead,” holds firmly to its message, and stands solidly in its truth.

After all, Paul goes on to say, consider what it would be “if there is no resurrection of the dead… and if Christ has not been raised?”  This is arguably one of the most mind-boggling passages of the Epistles, for what Paul is doing here is to envision for the Corinthians and for us a world without Easter, a life in which faith is futile and in vain, in which we are still mired in our sin, and “those who have died in Christ have perished.”  Understand that what Paul’s setting forth is the kind of world where there’s no possibility for redemption or renewal and any kind of positive change in our lives because there’s never been that hope of being liberated from all the anger, fear and pain that weighs us down.  This is the kind of life where evil wins out over good every single time, and that things like love and compassion and shalom are to be regarded as merely the philosophies of fools or the naïve.  This is the kind of situation where all we can ever say to one another at the graveside is, “oh, well… that’s the way it goes,” because life then becomes nothing more than a one way trip from the cradle to the tomb and no further.

But… and here’s the good news, we know better because in fact, Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.  Martin Luther, by the way, once said that his favorite word in the New Testament is that one little word that Paul uses here:  “BUT… [but] in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”  With that single word, “but,” Luther says, Paul erased an entire world of doom and gloom; on the force of that word, you and I can come rocketing out of that dark tomb of despair and rise on the wings of hope!  What Paul reminds us here is that since Jesus Christ has been raised, we are raised as well.  Our faith is not in vain: our loved ones who have died will be with us in the life to come; sorrow will not rule our lives forever; and the hope that girds us today and every day is not foolish or naïve, but blessed.  Christ is risen… indeed, and that makes all the difference for you and for me.

I think one of the questions I get asked most often about being a pastor is how difficult it must be to be present with people at times when someone they love is dying or how hard it is to have to lead so many funeral services.  Actually, the truth is that so often these are the times and places in which the message of our Christian faith becomes clearly focused, and the comforting presence of God in the midst of grief is felt so profoundly; and so as a pastor, I’m honored to be a part of that and to help in any way I can.  This is not to say that it’s ever an easy thing to do; I can tell you that there have been funerals I’ve led over the years that have been so physically and emotionally draining for me that I couldn’t begin to imagine what a struggle it must have been for the family.  Grief is truly one of the hardest realities of our human existence, and it’s never easy to lose somebody we love.

And yet, I have to say that there have been just as many occasions where the grief we all felt at the loss was in fact permeated with… joy (!); how often laughter became mingled with tears at these services, and how you’ll look out at the congregation as memories are being shared, and notice people smiling and nodding their heads even as they’re wiping their eyes!  Somehow, miraculously, by the grace of God a memorial has become a true celebration of life abundant and eternal, and broken hearts are healed in the process.  It seems an unlikely, if not impossible, scenario in the face of such a difficult and sorrowful time, but this is the transformative power of the resurrection; this is what happens when light floods into the darkest places of our lives.

If Christ has not been raised, beloved, then we could not see beyond the darkness, and beyond this earthly life to glimpse eternity and receive the peace that’s promised to all who would rest in the Lord.  If Christ has not been raised, then none of us could embrace the solid promise God gives us that all things – even the struggles of our lives – work ultimately for the good.  If Christ has not been raised, then there’d be no point to all of this… of our being here in this sanctuary, of singing songs of joy and victory, of lifting up prayers for the living of these days. If Christ has not been raised, how could we live any day with meaning and purpose?

But… in fact, beloved, Christ has been raised from the dead.  He has been raised indeed!  And because of this, you and I walk – in wherever we go and whatever we do – in newness of life.  Easter, you see, does not mark the end of our story, but represents a new beginning; in which life – your life and mine – is now forever and always girded on love, predicated on peace and imbued with unending hope; and it is the resurrection that makes all the difference as that wonderful story unfolds.

My hope and prayer for all of us in this Eastertide is that we remember… for it is in remembering the resurrection that true abundance will be found in this life and in the one to come; it will be in the resurrection that we will truly know the victory of  perfect love that casts out fear and overcomes the world!

Thanks be to God, who by grace has raised Jesus from the dead and gives us life!

Alleluia, and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 23, 2017 in Discipleship, Easter, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

Tags: , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: